By Steve Okonski
In a tournament played briefly in total darkness, Heikki Thoen edged out Charles Davis in a close final to capture his third Avaloncon/WBC Rail Baron title. By winning the final, Heikki became the only 3-time Rail Baron champion of the decade. The almost 8-hour long, 65-round final was as much as test of endurance as one of skill. None of the six finalists went bankrupt, and at the end, three were seriously in the running for the victory.
The finalists, in turn order, with home cities were: Donna Balkan (Portland ME), Heikki Thoen (Birmingham), Brian Conlon (Miami), Charles Davis (Salt Lake City), Paul Van Bloem (New York) and DeeAnn Gehring (San Antonio). Thanks to an initial throw of boxcars, Heikki was first to arrive and make a purchase, the B&M. He followed that turn with another set of boxcars, and on his third turn, arrived and was able to grab the PA. After the first four rounds, the only other RR purchased was the SAL by Brian. Donna's first trip was coast-to-coast (Portland OR), and despite rolling 10, 11, 9, 9 and 6 for movement, it took her five turns to make her first arrival. She purchased the NYC. Charles and DeeAnn arrived later that round and opted for the B&O and C&O respectively. It took Paul until round 7 to complete his coast-to-coast trip (San Francisco) and make his first purchase, the CMStP&P.
Echoing Steve Okonski's start at the 1998 finals, DeeAnn followed her expensive trip to Portland ME with one to Detroit. Unlike last year, Detroit was accessible for DeeAnn, but she still had to pay Heikki a total of $10,000 for the Portland ME trip. Paul's next trip (Pittsburgh) required paying a total of $10,000 to Charles, and significantly reduced his chance of victory. Brian was the next to run into some hard luck with two unfriendly destinations in a row: Detroit and Boston. In the process, he paid $15,000 to Donna and $5,000 to Heikki.
The game proceeded fairly normally. Brian selected GN, one of the two remaining NW railroads, and Charles was the first to take one of the big three SW railroads when he chose the AT&SF in round 16. The SP went to Heikki in round 22, leaving UP as the only unowned RR on the map. While hurrying from Seattle to Columbus, Donna made a routing slip-up and unnecessarily used Brian's GN instead of her own NP. The $10,000 total fee meant she was unable to afford the UP when she arrived in round 27 and again in round 28. Instead, she opted for a Superchief upgrade ($28,000). In round 29, Brian was able to afford the UP; it added significantly to his network. At this point all the RRs had been sold, and the holdings were as follows: Donna: NYC, NP, C&NW, D&RGW, MP; Heikki: B&M, PA, NYNH, SOU, WP, GM&O, SP; Brian: SAL, GN, CRI&P, UP; Charles: B&O, ACL, AT&SF, N&W (won at auction from Paul for $13,000), IC; Paul: CMStP&P, L&N, SLSF; DeeAnn: C&O, RF&P, CB&Q, T&P. In terms of percentages of cities served and monopolized, the player's holdings were as follows: Donna: 45.27%, 0.77%; Heikki: 66.42%, 5.9%; Brian: 41.38%, 4.51%; Charles: 51.22%, 2.84%; Paul: 33.08%, 1.22%; DeeAnn: 29.84%, 0.0%.
In round 31, Heikki upgraded to a Superchief. This was a good time to upgrade since each round after number 34 featured at least one player paying RR use fees to another. With Heikki, Charles and Donna leading, the players favored using the RRs of Brian, Paul and particularly DeeAnn whenever possible. The total RR use fees collected for the whole game by the players were as follows: Donna $92,000; Heikki $291,000; Brian $238,000; Charles $160,000; Paul $100,000; DeeAnn $255,000. Beginning in round 40, Brian made an expensive trip to New York which resulted in his auctioning the GN. A bidding war ensued between Heikki and Charles, each of whom lacked good access to the NW; Heikki won the GN for a bid of $41,000. At round 50, Donna was the first to announce ($151,500), followed later that same round by Charles ($153,500). Heikki did not announce until round 58 ($151,500).Heikki Thoen (top right) has just declared and is about to throw the dice to go for the win. Also pictured: DeeAnn Gehring on the left and Brian Conlon on the right.
During the tense ending rounds, all players closely monitored the next destinations of the announced players. A combination of trips to and from the NE resulted in a windfall of RR use fees paid to Heikki, who quickly collected $70,000 during rounds 60 to 63. Charles departed Chicago for Sacramento (not far from his Salt Lake City home), while Donna moved from Seattle to Norfolk (an expensive distance from her Portland ME home), and Heikki traveled from Billings to Chicago. Heikki arrived first and was able to consume part of the bonus die, thereby leaving the declaration decision until his next turn. Charles did not have the same fortune: his bonus roll of 1 left him no option but to arrive and declare with the bonus roll. Even though Donna had over $200,000 when she arrived in Norfolk, she did not have enough extra to afford the trip to her Portland ME home, so she did not declare. Heikki had $268,000, and a distance of 10 to his Birmingham home. He declared and rolled 11, sufficient to arrive and be crowned the winner! The final asset totals were: Heikki $395,000; Charles $326,500; Donna $303,000; Brian $240,500; DeeAnn $205,500; and Paul $28,000.
Total participation in Rail Baron was down to 58 from last year's peak of 100. I think several factors caused the reduction: 1) one fewer first-round heat than last year, 2) the availability of other (non-AH) train games and more non-war games, and 3) scheduling conflicts with other popular games. I'd like to know what other games Rail Baron players enjoy at the WBC; please email me so I can try to schedule future RBN games to minimize time conflicts with those events. On the whole, the response to the $0 cost Superchief experiment was positive; the special rule seemed to reduce the average first-round game length. Still, there were a few notable long duration games, including one almost 6-hour first-round match, and one 7+ hour semi-final, both 5-player matches.
A total of 18 different people won during the first round; TJ Halberstadt was the only person to win twice during the first round. Twelve others placed second, and were named alternates. Out of the total of 30, 26 showed up for the semi-final, which consisted of five 5-player matches. To add some drama, thunderstorms rumbled through the Baltimore area during the semi-finals, and extinguished the hotel lights. Fortunately, power was restored quickly, and no one appeared suddenly $50,000 richer. The five winners plus the person finishing second with the highest net worth advanced to the final. Unlike last year, all 6 finalists showed up, so no alternates were able to advance to the final.
Eight different prizes were awarded: the Tournament Champion was Heikki Thoen. The Casey Jones Award went to Bill Crenshaw for his 18 unfriendly destinations visited. The Persistence Award (highest sum total first-round net worth without a victory) went to Joe Pelliccia with $1,015,000. The Efficient Engineer Award (winner with lowest RR value) was won by Brian Conlon at $105,000. The Riches to Rags Award (lowest net worth without going bankrupt) went to Margaret Hebner at $30,000. The Long Haul Award (victory while visiting the fewest destinations) went to Mark McBride at 12. The JP Morgan Award (highest net worth in a single game) was won by Donna Balkan at $493,500. The Sportsmanship Award (by vote of GM and Assistants) went to Crawford Lopez as recognition for the cheerful attitude he brings to the tournament each year.
Overall, there were a total of 25 games completed. I tallied the RRs owned by the winner of each game. The RRs that appeared most often in the winner's holdings were the PA and UP, each 12 times in the 25 games. Other RRs associated with victory (10 times each) were the B&M, CMStP&P and L&N. At the other end of the scale, the owner of the C&O did not win any of the 25 games. The IC was part of a winning network in just 1 game, the CB&Q in only 2 games, and each of the SAL, GM&O and NP in only 3. These stats are something to keep in mind for your next Rail Baron game.
I'd like to thank everyone for participating and cutting me some extra slack as I dealt with unfamiliar GM duties. I hope you'll be able to join us at the next Rail Baron tournament, and that you'll vote for me in the BPA Board of Directors elections ending August 15, 1999. To keep up-to-date with RBN game news year round, subscribe to the RB Fans mailing list: send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With 100 participants in 1998, Rail Baron was one of the most popular games at Avaloncon. The four first-round heats combined with the welcoming of beginner players encouraged many people to join in. In 1999, we will reduce the number of first-round heats to three, but, as in prior years, beginners are welcome.
As in prior years, the 1999 Rail Baron (RBN) tournament uses Swiss-Elimination format. This means you can play in any or all of the three first round heats. The top 30 first round winners advance to the semi-finals. The top six semi-finalists advance to the final.
The exact number of players per game at the first round, semi-final and final levels is likely to vary based on the total number of participants. Ideally, each first-round heat will feature multiple 4-player games, the semi-finals will consist of six 5-player games, and the final will be one challenging 6-player game. With this arrangement, to be crowned champion, you will need to win a 4-, a 5- and a 6-player game.
In the event there are more than 30 first-round winners, the 30 winners with the highest net worth in a single game will advance to the semi-finals. Net worth is the total of your cash and RR value at the end of the game; the value of your engine is NOT included in the net worth. The BPA Web site says 25 winners will advance, but this number has been changed to 30. If the first-round participation is much larger or smaller than expected, we might change the number of people that advance.
In the event there are fewer than 30 first-round winners, the empty semi-final slots will be filled by players who finished second in their first round games, and who had the highest net worth (computed as above). If necessary, a similar approach will be used to find the top 6 players for the competitive final.
The following is the Rail Baron (RBN) schedule and is subject to change:
|Beginner's Orientation||Wednesday||July 28th||12:00 to 12:30||Salon A|
|Round 1, Heat 1||Wednesday||July 28th||13:00 to 17:00||Salon A|
|Round 1, Heat 2||Thursday||July 29th||14:00 to 18:00||Valley|
|Round 1, Heat 3||Friday||July 30th||10:00 to 14:00||Valley|
|Semi-finals||Friday||July 30th||16:00 to 21:00||Salon B|
|Final||Saturday||July 31st||16:00 to 22:00||Belmont|
The exact schedule is determined by the BPA; the durations are estimates. We have requested the BPA to try to avoid time slot conflicts with Empire Builder/Eurorails as it is likely many Rail Baron players also enjoy those train games.
This year we will offer small prizes for the following categories:Tournament Champion - winner of the final
Please be on time. Late arrivals will lose their right to participate in that heat or round. A player is considered late if he has not submitted his badge to the GM for the round signup when the GM has finished badge processing for all the players already present and waiting to start.
Please be courteous to your opponents, and do not quit a game in which you are playing. However, if your match is running longer than the expected duration (4 hours for the first round, 5 for the semi-final) and another tournament for which you have pre-registered is about to start, you may leave provided that 1) you locate someone to take your place, and 2) you have the permission of the GM or an Assistant GM. Once you have left a match, you may not rejoin it; the results are credited to your record, not that of the substitute. Failure to abide by these guidelines will disqualify you from playing in another RBN game at the WBC.
Due to time conflicts with other games, it is likely one or more semi-final and final slots will be unclaimed. For example, in 1998, two of the six final slots were unclaimed and were filled by others. Thus, even if you did not win during the prior round, but have a high net worth, you should stop by and check in because you might advance. If, after 20 minutes past the scheduled start time of the round, there still remain open slots, these slots will be offered to recent previous Avaloncon RBN champions, and then recent finalists.
Late news is that Chuck Foster, Rail Baron GM for many years, will not be attending the 1999 WBC. This year Steve Okonski will be GM with Paul Van Bloem and Heikki Thoen as Assistant GMs.
Feel free to write to Steve with any questions about the RBN tournament. Steve's email is email@example.com and conventional address is P.O. Box 477; Fulton, MD 20759.
July 1: Steve is one of seven people nominated to serve on the BPA's Board of Directors, but only three people will be selected. Steve needs your vote, and pledges his support for train games at BPA events. You can read short statements from each of the nominees, as well as obtain a ballot at the BPA's Board of Directors Elections page. Please mark your vote for Steve Okonski and send in your ballot.
In prior years, players indicated they wanted the RBN games to move faster so they would have more time to also participate in other events. Therefore, we will employ the following Special Tournament Rules for use during the three first round heats:
SuperChief engines will cost $0: In 1998, we employed Optional Rule No. 2 found in the RBN rules which reduces the cost of a Superchief to as little as $28,000. For 1999, we'll try reducing the cost to $0 if you already own an Express engine. Note that you will still need to use a purchase opportunity to upgrade the Express to a Superchief. If you want to jump directly to a Superchief (without an Express) the cost will be $40,000. Tests with the RB Player computer software indicate this will reduce the average game duration by 20%.
Roll 3 with a SuperChief: If you do not have a Superchief, and are entitled to a bonus die, the bonus die must be rolled after you have completed movement for the normal roll. Once you have a Superchief, you must roll all three dice at once, and then use them all for movement.
Modified enforcement of "roll-and-move-immediately": This courtesy rule stipulates that once you roll the dice, you must start moving your pawn immediately. However, this encourages players to think of a route for all possible dice rolls prior to rolling, instead of just the single route for the actual roll. This pre-planning for all possibilities slows down the game. Instead, here is how we will play: 1) a player rolls the dice, 2) the player can count dots and decide what route to employ, 3) however, once the player begins to move his pawn to a rail dot (i.e. moves it to the next dot), he must continue without stopping all the way until he consumes the dice roll (or arrives). The penalty for stopping mid-route will be to lose this turn; the player's pawn should be returned to where it started this turn. Furthermore, the penalized player must pay the bank the current unfriendly RR use fee (either $5000 or $10000). The penalty will be invoked if more than half the remaining opponents in the match agree that the player stopped in mid-route.
Special rule #1 above will not be employed for the semi-final and final rounds. Instead, the Superchief cost will be reduced per Optional Rule #2 in the RBN rules.
If you arrive at your destination on the normal dice, and the bonus die is pending, you get to roll for your next destination and "get the bonus out" (use the bonus die to begin the next trip). Note that with a Superchief engine, you roll the normal and bonus dice together. Therefore, if you "get the bonus out" you use that die to start your next trip; you do NOT re-roll the bonus die.
Upon arrival, you collect your payoff and may use it to make a purchase. You do not have to pay track use fees until after your purchase. Note that if you do not have enough cash to pay the track use fees, to stay in the game, you will need to auction or sell back a railroad.
A player owes extra fees to a given opponent for the track used during a bonus roll only if that player did not already pay the opponent at least that much for track used during the normal roll.
Per BPA rules, no "cheat sheets" or electronic aids may be used during tournament play. However, the replacement destination and payoff chart distributed free by ICI is approved for use.
Any dice that roll on the floor must be rerolled on the table. Any dice that are leaning on the edge of the board game must be rerolled. Reroll only those dice that did not sit properly. Consider rolling within the box top to help avoid these problems.
Cash may not be kept hidden from view of opponents, but may be placed in a single stack in front of the player.
You do not need to tell opponents how much cash you have, unless you have $150,000 or more and an opponent asks. Upon reaching $150,000, you should announce this to the other players.
We have requested the BPA to arrange for different tables for play. Several people said those circular 6 foot tables used in prior years were too awkward for Rail Baron.
1999 Heikki Thoen
1998 Eyal Mozes full 1998 tournament story
1997 Kimberly Lemmons
1996 Heikki Thoen
1995 Heikki Thoen
1994 Bill Fellin
1993 Kevin Quirk
1992 Kevin Quirk
1991 Chuck Foster
Rail Baron is The Avalon Hill Game Company's / Hasbro's Trademark for its Empire Building Game. Any BPA GM who wishes to create a Web page for his/her game is welcome to copy the HTML of this page and modify it as needed. If you do so, all I ask is that you add a link from your modified page back to this one. Let me you have done so, and I'll add a link from here to your page. Thanks!